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Dear Tom and Ray:

Your recent column on dealer service versus independent mechanics was fine but, in my experience, far too generalized. For more than a decade, I used the dealer for servicing four cars I purchased through him. The most important element in my satisfaction was a highly qualified service manager who had extensive knowledge of the cars without having to go to the mechanic each time. Unfortunately, about a year ago the dealership changed hands and service managers. The new guy is completely ignorant about anything auto-related (even the various makes and models that the dealership has sold over the years). At the same time, the service prices increased dramatically. Since then, I've found an independent mechanic through a personal recommendation who has far exceeded the service and knowledge of the new dealer people. In sum, I think each service center needs to be evaluated individually. And with luck, you will find a competent and honest one.

- David

Ray: We agree with you 100 percent, David. Even beyond the category comparisons, individual comparisons have to be made.

Tom: And in some cases - as you describe - these decisions have to be re-evaluated when circumstances or ownership changes.

Ray: As we said in our original article, at any given time you might have a special reason to seek out either a dealership service center (warranty work, hard-to-solve problem, recalls) or an independent shop (lower prices on more common, non-warranty repairs).

Tom: But in either case, you want to go to a specific shop that's competent and trustworthy.

Ray: If you don't know of a trustworthy and competent shop (independent or dealer), you can always look in our "Mechan-X-Files." It's an online database of mechanics who are personally recommended by the people who visit our Web site. It's the next best thing to a personal recommendation. Check it out at the Car Talk section of Click on the "Got a Car" section and choose "Mechan-X-Files."

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or e-mail them by visiting their Web site.

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